By Irwin Karp
Irwin Karp is a productivity consultant with Productive Time in Sacramento, California, and can be contacted at

Is your BlackBerry ® use getting out of control? Here are some suggestions for reclaiming control of your time (and life)!
Be wary of multitasking—learn to focus. E-mail will interrupt your work if you let it. A 2005 survey in England found that constantly interrupting your work to check new e-mail messages damages productivity and results in a greater loss of IQ than smoking marijuana or losing an entire night of sleep. Allowing yourself to constantly be distracted by e-mails causes your focus to suffer and your work to take longer.
Have you ever attended a meeting where participants are constantly checking their BlackBerries? They are not engaged in the meeting. While there is the impression of great productivity, there is also the risk of missing something important. In CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for a World Gone ADD (Ballantine Books 2006), Dr. Edward M. Hallowell states that “it is a myth that you can perform two tasks simultaneously as well as you can perform one. It is fine to believe that multitasking is a skill necessary in the modern world, but to believe it is an equivalent substitute for single-minded focus on one task is incorrect.”
Determine a reasonable interval for checking messages. To keep e-mail from interfering with your ability to focus and get things done, try to develop a reasonable interval for checking e-mail given your responsibilities. Lawyers are often tied up for some period of time during court hearings, depositions, negotiations, client meetings, and closings. We make do with checking our BlackBerries during breaks. We should bring the same practice into the office when we are trying to concentrate on a project.
Many lawyers I work with say it is difficult to pause before responding to e-mails because they have spoiled the senders with habitually responding to them immediately. They think if they don’t respond almost instantaneously, the sender will wonder what is going on with them. If you routinely respond to e-mails right away, then you will be continually distracted. Yes, you will get through your e-mails faster, but what else will you have accomplished?
Discuss expectations with colleagues and clients. Don’t assume what your supervisor or client expects your response time to e-mail to be. Last year, the lawyers in the litigation practice group of a large law firm entered their conference room for a program on “overcoming information overload.” Every associate put a Treo TM down on the table in front of them; none of the partners did so. I asked why the associates brought them as we were going to do a two-hour workshop. The answer: “So we can respond immediately to a partner’s e-mail.” I pointed out that none of the partners had their BlackBerries in the room.
The chair of the practice group asked an associate, “Who ever said that we expected an immediate response to our e-mails?” The associate responded that he assumed it. But the issue had never been discussed.
Unplug periodically—give it a rest. The Wall Street Journal article “BlackBerry Orphans” (Dec. 8, 2006) discussed the impact that chronic use of the devices is having on family dynamics. In the article’s side-bar “A 12-Step Program for Addicts,” suggestions for curbing BlackBerry overuse included leaving the device in your car or at home when attending your child’s functions; setting boundaries (letting colleagues know that it will be turned off for a designated period of time); and declaring a BlackBerry-free zone in your home.
Don’t be rude. Have you ever been in a discussion or meeting with someone who steals glances at his or her BlackBerry? It’s hard enough to be a good listener without additional distractions. The Web site, the self-described “#1 site for BlackBerry Users (& Abusers!)” has developed “13 steps to breaking a CrackBerry Addiction” because they didn’t think 12 steps were enough. Step 6 suggests that abusers “make a list of all persons we have harmed through our rudeness, inconsideration and pretentious self-involvement, and make amends to them all.”
How we decide to use our available tools is a personal choice. But if you can learn to recognize when your BlackBerry use is borderline addictive rather than purposeful, you may actually be more productive in the long run.
This article is a version of an excerpt from “How to Regain Control from Your BlackBerry ,” Law Practice Management Today , available at
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